Yoakum leads Warriors into state semifinals
TUSCOLA — Dan Yoakum was a factor from end zone to end zone for Tuscola's football team in Saturday night's Class 1A high school playoff game.
The junior hauled in a 22-yard scoring strike and also prevented an Arcola TD by breaking up an attempt in the end zone 90 seconds before halftime of a quarterfinal game the Warriors captured 42-7.
Tuscola coach Rick Reinhart said Yoakum's influence extended beyond the offense and the defense.
"He had the best game of his career," Reinhart said. "The pass defense was textbook, he had that great catch and he pinned them deep with his kickoffs."
Yoakum's kickoff to start the 104th Cola Wars game between the neighboring rivals went to the Arcola 5-yard line. The Purple Riders began their first possession at the 13 after Cole O'Rourke's return.
Six plays later, the Warriors (10-2) took over at their own 40 and needed less than three minutes to drive 60 yards and break the shutout. Tuscola's final two plays were successive 18-yard runs, the first by Jimmy Knight and the second by quarterback Philip Meyer, who later tossed two TD passes.
"We played strong at the beginning," said Reinhart, whose team reached the end zone on four of its first five possessions, a streak that extended into the third quarter.
The season strengths of the teams were not what surfaced in the game. A Tuscola squad that had gained more than half of its total yards in the first 12 games through the air ground out 312 of its 391 yards via rushing.
"With the wind, we had to adjust," Meyer said. "Our running and passing games are so dynamic, we can go with whatever they're giving us. They were giving us open runs."
An Arcola team that secured a majority of its yards on the ground all year had nearly twice as many passing yards than rushing yards in a game it fell behind 42-0.
Losing rushing leader Omar Rojas four plays into the game (leg injury) was only a start of the Purple Riders' woes. Neither starting tackle Alex East nor Jared Peters was able to finish the game, and center Andres Rojas also went to the sidelines early with an injury.
"That's not an excuse," Arcola coach Gerald Temples said. "Tuscola's a darned good team. They are physical and quick, they run to the football and they don't stay blocked."
Tuscola's defense — led by T.J. Onstott with a team-high 12 tackles — limited Arcola to 40 yards rushing on 31 tries.
All of the Warriors' TDs were scored by different players. Meyer scored once and hooked up with Yoakum and Knight on aerial strikes. Austin Sexson and backup quarterback Austin Martin each had scoring runs, and Jordan Scribner recovered a fumble in the end zone.
Onstott drilled the extra points after all six scores as Tuscola's lead grew to 42-0 — and created a running clock — with 6:32 remaining.
Arcola reached the end zone with 2:13 remaining when O'Rourke caught a 25-yard pass from Jose Tamez, who threw for 74 yards.
"It was a pretty good night," Reinhart said. "Now we have to get ready to go into as hostile of an environment as I've ever been to."
Tuscola plays Brown County (11-1) in Mount Sterling next Saturday in the semifinals. It's the sixth time in the past seven seasons the Warriors have advanced to the state's final four and the third year in a row for playing Brown County in the postseason.
"It's amazing to be in the semis," said Yoakum, who had his first official TD of the season. "Two others were called back by penalties."
Meyer completed 9 of 15 passes for 79 yards, raising his season total to 2,018. He also rushed for a game-high 100 yards. Sexson and Josh Brookins each had 62 yards rushing.
Arcola's Hector Salinas was the game's top tackler. He had 13 stops and also recovered the fumble that led to Arcola's one-play late-game scoring drive.
"Tonight was their night and they were all over us," said Temples, whose 8-4 team had 115 total yards.